July 31, 2012
Florida State's 2012 season officially kicks off Monday, Aug. 6 when the team holds its first practice of fall camp. In preparation for the start of the new season Seminoles.com will roll out position previews every day this week, starting with running backs and defensive tackles yesterday, followed by today's look at the quarterbacks and defensive ends, receivers and linebackers Wednesday, offensive linemen and special teams Thursday and finally the tight ends and defensive backs Friday.
By: Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com Managing Editor
EJ Manuel is under intense pressure.
Not the kind he'll face from opposing defensive linemen throughout the upcoming season but the kind of pressure that goes hand-in-hand with being the quarterback -- the guy -- of the Florida State football program.
As FSU's second-year starter under center, many of the ever-so-lofty championship-winning expectations hinge directly on Manuel's right shoulder. The Seminoles may have a world-class defense, but they can only go as far as their team leader can take them.
After a 2011 season that saw him throw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns while leading FSU to nine wins, Manuel's experience and off-season preparation for his final campaign in the garnet and gold could help him turn what was a good first year as a starter into a great second year in that role.
In addition to working on his mechanics and weight transfer with noted quarterback coach George Whitfield this summer, Manuel also bought a dry erase board this off-season that he uses to draw up and study plays during what used to be his down times away from football.
"Me being a visual learner and being able to write things down a lot faster and remember them a lot better," Manuel said, "I think that's going to go a long way this season."
Manuel enters fall camp as the program's all-time leader in completion percentage thanks to his career throwing clip of 66.1. He can maintain that level of accuracy by building off his off-season work and the improved decision making he showed over the course of the 2011 season.
Manuel is currently on a streak of 121 consecutive passes thrown without an interception -- a stretch of throws that means he hasn't tossed a turnover since FSU's 34-0 drubbing of NC State Oct. 29, 2011.
More important than all of that, though, is that Manuel is finally healthy after sustaining shoulder and leg injuries last year.
"I am extremely happy because I haven't been visiting the training room as much as I used to so that's nice," he said with a laugh recently.
Maintaining that health during the entire season will be its own task and should Manuel go down with an injury like he did last year against Oklahoma, redshirt sophomore Clint Trickett figures to remain the backup while continuing to battle Jacob Coker for the No. 2 spot during fall camp and into season.
Trickett threw for 675 yards in relief of Manuel and started the game at Clemson in 2011.
He followed that up with a strong showing in the Garnet & Gold Game when he tossed two touchdown passes and accumulated 173 yards while leading Garnet to victory. In addition to his improvements as a football player as he grows within the system, Trickett has also packed on added muscle and pounds thanks to the proper management of his Celiac Disease.
"He's put a lot of his weight back on and gotten much stronger and bigger," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Coker also had a good spring game in what was his debut for FSU fans, throwing for 137 yards on 8-of-11 passing.
Together, FSU's two returning backups will try to hold off rookies Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire, who are likely redshirt candidates in their respective first seasons but will also be given opportunities at practice to showcase their skills.
Winston was the nation's No. 1 dual-threat quarterback as a high school prospect in the 2012 signing class.
"Clint has a very good knowledge of things, but it'll be open -- and to Jamies, too," Fisher said.
The competition between all four of FSU's reserve quarterbacks won't be nearly as intense this fall as it will be next spring when Manuel is no longer on the team and each makes his case to be the 'Noles' new starter.
Strong play in camp and throughout the year will put one of them not just in position to take second-team repetitions in 2012 but to boost their resume for a big job opportunity come 2013.
With the way Florida State recruits, off-seasons are typically spent reloading rather than rebuilding.
In the case of the 'Noles' defensive ends, there isn't even a need to reload for the 2012 campaign -- the team lost only one player from a positional group that is arguably the most talented of its kind in all of college football.
When Brandon Jenkins decided to return for his senior season instead of declaring early for the NFL Draft, FSU essentially nabbed its biggest recruit of the year. Jenkins' return meant that not only would the team keep one of the best rushers in the country -- a player that has racked up 36 1/2 tackles for loss and 21 1/2 sacks over his career -- but it would also keep intact a duo of defensive ends that features standout Bjoern Werner on the other side of the line.
Add in Cornellius Carradine and FSU's top three defensive ends rival any trio from any school coast to coast.
"We are stacked," Jenkins said. "And now we are more mature."
If being more mature and having that much time together means Florida State's defensive ends can be even better than they were last season when the defense finished eighth in the country in tackles for loss and tied for eighth in sacks, opposing offensive linemen will surely have issues in 2012.
Despite losing Dan Hicks to the offensive side of the ball following an off-season change to tight end, the Seminoles also have veteran Toshmon Stevens and redshirt freshman Giorgio Newberry returning.
Stevens has become a special teams star over the course of his career but could also be used as a situational stand-up pass rusher on defense as a senior.
The Seminoles also signed the 2012 class' top prospect in unanimous five-star defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. and highly regarded four-star prospect Chris Casher so FSU is even deeper at the position that it was a year ago.
"They are grown men," Jenkins said, when asked about the newcomers. "They look like they could play in the NFL right now."